It has been a pleasure to have Charlotte Graver here with us as an intern. Charlotte is studying on the MA in Translation course at the University of Lancaster.
A hot topic in the language sector in the UK today is the apparent bias of government towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) university subjects to the detriment of investment in languages and the arts. This issue appears to be common across Europe, and the issue is on the agenda of the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies. As part of her internship, Charlotte has been considering the situation of universities in the UK, and her work has proved helpful to the European Union Association of Translation Companies (EUATC) as they draw comparisons across the continent.
The number of UK universities offering language and translation courses is falling. Most recently, the universities of Hull, Aston and Salford have announced that they are phasing out their language courses. In 2019, 7 UK universities did the same thing.
So why are language and translation courses falling at UK universities? Three causes have been identified:
1. Going right back to 2004 when it was no longer compulsory to study languages to the age of 16, UK government policy has stifled demand for language education. Since then, a steep decline in the uptake of foreign languages in schools arose with a 45% decrease between 2002 and 2018. A similar story can be said for those studying to the age of 18 which saw a 15% decrease within the same period.
2. Lack of UK government financial support for the Arts at universities can be argued to be negatively impacting the number of students studying languages and translation in Higher Education. Just recently, plans have been unveiled to cut ‘The Strategic Priorities Grant’ from £36 million to £19 million next year.
3. It appears that Brexit wields an influence. As well as potentially engendering a dearth in expertise as an exodus of academics has arisen, within a recent study by the British Council, it was noted that 25% of teachers surveyed believed Brexit to have made students less willing to study a language. This may be due to the UK’s withdrawal signalling a distancing from other cultures and thus the need to speak other languages, or perhaps it owes itself to the closing of the Erasmus scheme and the loss of the ability to study or work abroad with financial ease.
A downward spiral thus seems to be appearing within the UK with regards to the state of Translation and Interpreting courses at university and this decline not merely threatens the loss of a rich skill set, but it is equally likely to impact economic activity. As a recent Wolfestone report highlights, the UK’s language skills deficit is set to lead to a reduction in the competitiveness of UK business when trading internationally. This is perhaps due to the nation’s lack of language skills deterring international companies from staying in the UK or perhaps it is due to UK-based companies being unable to find employees with the right language skills.
Despite such a sombre outlook, however, there is certain hope. Although students are not wishing to study languages and translation specifically, it cannot be stated that they do not care for foreign languages. Statistics representing Institution Wide-Language Provision at Universities illustrate this as whilst 47,000 students were noted to be pursuing optional courses in 2012 — a figure greater than the number studying specialised language courses at the time — in 2019 this figure sat at 55,000.
Further still, each language tells a different story. Whilst German and French are suffering most, Spanish has only recently recorded a slight decrease in uptake and non-European languages are growing in popularity. The situation is not as black and white as it first appears, therefore, yet what is certain is that something needs to change.
To receive a copy of Charlotte’s findings in full, please email us with the words ‘University Language Report’ in the subject line.